Yael Chaya Miriam Gray

The most intoxicating thing in the world

  • G-d said to Noach: ‘Noach! You should have taken a lesson from Adam, whose downfall was caused by wine.’ This follows the opinion of R. Meier, who says that the tree of which Adam ate was a grapevine.”[1]
  • “Said R. Shimon: There is a secret wisdom in this verse. Noach attempted to investigate Adam and Eve’s sin, not to attach himself to it, but to know and rectify the world. But when he arrived within that vineyard, ‘he became drunk and he was exposed’ – he uncovered the breach that was made in the world, but did not have the power to stand up to it” ~ Zohar. Id.
One interpretation of R. Shimon’s statement:
When he arrived within _that_ vineyard”:
  • Meaning, that specific vineyard: I interpret this as referencing “the orchard”, or “the nut garden,” i.e., Gan Eden, PARDES (heaven). Yes, Noach was mamash drunk here below, but, imho, his experience as recounted in this Zohar was primarily a spiritual one. For as the Belzer Rebbe once noted, Bereishis is “Torah in Peltz” (“Torah in a fur coat”). That is, events recounted in Bereishis as occurring here below conceal events occurring simultaneously above, in much the same way as a fur coat conceals the shape of the one who wears it. So, here below, Noach was in the vineyard that he, himself, had planted, from a shoot of the Tree of Knowledge that he had brought with him on the ark from Gan Eden. But above, Noach was in G-d’s vineyard, i.e., Gan Eden, PARDES, just like Adam and Chava.
“He [Noach] became drunk”:
  • The Tree of Knowledge of good and evil – from which both Adam and Chava ate – is the grape vine, and the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge is the grape.[2]. Unlike the Tree of Life, concerning the appearance of which the Torah is silent, and which had no luscious fruits of its own[3], the Torah attests that the Tree of Knowledge was “good for eating, lusty to the eyes, and covetous to make wise.” (Bereishis 3:6). Forbidden fruits are invariably sweet, while the “taste” (effect) of the Tree of Life varied from person to person.[4] To top it all off, the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was intoxicating.[5] How much more attractive could Hashem have made the Tree of Knowledge?
  • Noach knew this. He also knew the nature of Adam’s and Eve’s sin, that self-absorption, short-sighted selfishness, and drunkenness caused them to choose the evanescent thrill of tasting the fruit instead of the everlasting bliss of refraining from doing so, in obedience to G-d’s commandment.
Why did they do something so obviously stupid?
  • They [Adam & Chavah, and Noach, after them] were ‘drunk’ from the fruit of the vine. They were ‘drunk’ below and ‘drunk’ above. We already know what it is like for a person to be drunk here, below.
  • But what does it mean to be ‘drunk above’? R. Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch explains: “There are two perceptions of reality: 1) a ‘higher awareness’ of the all-encompassing and all-obliterating reality of G-d[: This is the Tree of Life]; and 2) and a ‘lower awareness’ that is framed by a self and ego distinct from one’s Source[:This is the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge].”[6] Before the sin, Adam “saw from one end of the world to the other.”[7] That is, he perceived reality primarily through the first lens: Adam conversed freely with the Alm*ghty in the garden, as one would converse with a friend. This is only possible because neither Adam nor Chava then had what we today would call an “ego”: Their respective egos were as small as the white on the tip of a pinkie fingernail. And they were not afraid at all.
  • That’s why eating from the Tree made them ‘drunk’. R. Dov Ber continues: “The knowledge that the Tree imparted was the knowledge of self, the ‘I am’ sensibility.” [8] They were unused to this sensibility and it hit them like a ton of bricks, thrilling them to the extent that they became drunk on it. This means that they preferred viewing reality through the second lens, as an extension of themselves – i.e., strictly from a material and egocentric point-of-view [; i.e. they preferred the taste of fruit from the Tree of Knowledge…] – from their prior constant awareness of the all-obliterating reality which is Hashem […to the taste of the Tree of Life!]
  • “Thus the Zohar identifies the Tree of Knowledge with the divine attribute of malchus, which is the divine capacity to be present in a thing in a condensed and hidden manner, so as to impart the ‘lower awareness’ of selfhood and apartness to created beings. This is in contrast to the ‘higher awareness’ engendered by the Tree of Life (in Kabbalistic terms, the attribute of tif’eret).”
  • “A sense of self does not preclude awareness of and connection to G-d. One can know and acknowledge that one’s own existence is utterly dependent on the Creator, and that it is wholly dedicated to serve the purpose for which it was created. However, unless it is coupled with a self-nullifying ‘higher awareness’, this ‘lower awareness’ can deteriorate into selfishness and its attendant evils. Self-knowledge is thus ‘good and evil’ – good when it is joined to a ‘higher awareness’, yet descending to evil when severed from it.
  • “This is why the Zohar explains that Adam and Eve were actually permitted to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, provided that they also ate of the Tree of Life. Their sin was they ate of the Tree of Knowledge alone, severing it from the Tree of Life.“[7]
What is the practical effect of all this?
  • “Today, the evil inclination is the internal voice which says, ‘I want, I need’ while the good inclination is the voice inside us that counters, ‘No, this is wrong. You shouldn’t do this.’ Before Adam’s sin, it was the other way around – the good inclination spoke with the ‘I’ voice, and the evil inclination was the external ‘you’ voice.”[8]
  • “[M]an is an ‘internalizer’ (penimi). Our nature is to become attached to and involved in what we know, and to assimilate it into our own being.
  • “Before Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge, good and evil were completely separate domains. Man’s mission was ‘to work and keep the garden’ – to cultivate the good and keep out the bad. As for the ‘sparks’ of holiness buried in the realm of evil, these would be spontaneously attracted to the realm of good like sparks drawn to a great fire, and thereby extracted and elevated without man’s ever coming in contact with evil. But by eating from the Tree, Adam and Eve gained daat – intimate knowledge of evil – assimilating it into themselves. And because the human is a microcosm of all the worlds, the whole of creation was similarly transformed.
  • “From that morning, the two realms were confused, so that there is no evil without good and no good without evil. Man’s task became ‘the work of refinement’ – to distinguish and separate good from evil and evil from good.”[9]
“and he [Noach] became exposed.”
  • Adam’s drunkenness caused him to spill his seed onto the ground. Noach’s drunkenness led him to uncover himself in his tent. This was shameful, but it was done in privacy. Canaan made it public, however, informing his father, Ham, and his uncles, Shem and Japheth, about Noach’s debasement.
  • Far from correcting Adam’s sin, Noach repeated it and was castrated by his own son, depriving him – and the world – of further issue.
  • On a deeper level, Noach’s intoxication – like Adam’s – was with self-knowledge. And self-knowledge is arguably the most intoxicating – and most dangerous – knowledge in the universe. Because sadly, the primarily G-d-focused-consciousness for which all of us yearn precludes the primarily ego-focused-consciousness which most of us habitually inhabit. Bittul – self-abnegation and nullification of the self before the Deity, is the sine qua non of surviving a trip to PARDES unscathed.
  • For example: “Eve sought to attain joy, which is the highest ideal in the service of G-d, through the wine of the Tree of Knowledge. Her failure lay in that her quest was corrupted by self-awareness, which is the source of all sorrow and the ultimate impediment to joy. Noach attempted to rectify Eve’s sin by obliterating self-awareness through drunkenness. But drunkenness does not truly sublimate one’s awareness of self – it only muddles it by confusing the mind, leading a person to degradation rather than enlightenment.
  • “True selflessness, and thus true joy, is achieved only through humility – by a mindful appreciation that all one is and has is a gift from G-d. Thus it was Sarah who, through her humility, rectified Eve’s sin and gave birth to ‘Isaac’ – the embodiment of holy joy.”[10]
“He [Noach] uncovered the breach that was made in the world.”
  • That is, when Noach ‘uncovered himself’ in his tent, he also ‘uncovered the breach’ that was made in the world by the sin of Chava and Adam haRishon. Previous to their sin, good and evil were two entirely separate domains.[11] After their sin, the barriers separating good from evil were breached, and good and evil became inextricably intertwined with each other.[12] The effect of imbibing of the Tree of Knowledge without also imbibing from the Tree of Life is death, because Hashem could not allow them to eat of the Tree of Life afterward, and make this catastrophic mixing of good and evil everlasting and eternal. [13]
  • Predictably, neither Noach nor Adam was able to stand up to death, because such matters are profound mysteries held only in the thought of G- d. What’s clear is that both Adam and Noach failed in their intended mission: To untangle the knotted skein of good-evil and remove the bad from the good and the good from the bad. Both repented and accepted the punishment decreed upon them on account of their sin with wine, believing it to be deserved and just when, in fact, it was a necessity.[14]
  • Suffice it to say that entering PARDES is a risky business, even for an Adam or a Noach, and it is certainly no place for anyone to be when drunk on wine. As our Teachers tell us:
  • “Four [Sages] entered the Pardes [literally “the orchard.”]. Rashi explains that they ascended to heaven by utilizing the [Divine] Name [i.e., they achieved a spiritual elevation through intense meditation on G‑d’s Name] (Tosafot, ad loc). They were Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher [Elisha ben Avuya, called Acher— the other one — because of what happened to him after he entered the Pardes] and Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva said to them [prior to their ascension]: “When you come to the place of pure marble stones, do not say, ‘Water! Water!’ for it is said, ‘He who speaks untruths shall not stand before My eyes’ (Psalms 101:7).” Ben Azzai gazed [at the Divine Presence – Rashi] and died. Regarding him the verse states, “Precious in the eyes of G‑d is the death of His pious ones” (Psalms 116:15). Ben Zoma gazed and was harmed [he lost his sanity — Rashi]. Regarding him the verse states, “Did you find honey? Eat only as much as you need, lest you be overfilled and vomit it up” (Proverbs 25:16). Acher cut down the plantings [he became a heretic]. Rabbi Akiva entered in peace and left in peace.[15]
Loose ends:
  • Chava is supposed to have tendered to Adam a slurry of crushed grapes, which had just started to ferment, that is, she gave him immature WINE. Cf. Eitz Chayim. Perhaps this is why so many of our time-bound blessings are made over mature WINE.
  • In partaking of this “immature fruit” of the grape a mere two hours early:
  • Was immature “wine” (i.e., Malchut in a state of katnut) supposed to “ripen” enough (i.e., become Malchut in the in the state of gadlut) in that 2 hour window before the very first Shabbat, so that it would be fit for use for KIDDUSH on that very first Shabbat? and
  • Did Adam unknowingly make a bracha on an immature (incomplete) Malchut (i.e., on Malchut without a screen on her, to repel egoistic desires, such egoistic desires being the “pollution of the NACHASH” injected into Chava” – Malchut)
  • Finally, (3) is this why the Masters use the sexual imagery (of adultery) to describe this matter (Malchut being the BRIDE)?

[1] Talmud. From “The Book Of Genesis With Commentary From 500 Sages And Mystics,” R. Yanki Tauber (Open Door Books, NY, NY:2023), p. 98.
[2] R. Meier. Id.
[3] R. Yochanan Luria, Id. p. 47.
[4] The Tree of Life is the Torah: “It is a tree of life (etz chayim) for those who grasp it, and those who support it are fortunate. Proverbs 3:18. Yoma 72b: “If a person merits, [the Torah] becomes an elixir of life for him. If a person does not merit, it becomes a deadly poison.””
[5] Talmud. Id.
[6] R. Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch, Id., p. 40.
[7] Midrash Rabbah.
[8] R. Eliyahu Dessler. From “The Book Of Genesis With Commentary From 500 Sages And Mystics,” R. Yanki Tauber (Open Door Books, NY, NY:2023). p. 40.
[9] R. Chaim Vital Calabrese; R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi. p. 40.
[10] R. Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch. From “The Book Of Genesis With Commentary From 500 Sages And Mystics,” R. Yanki Tauber (Open Door Books, NY, NY:2023), p. 40.
[11] R. Chaim Vital. From “The Book Of Genesis With Commentary From 500 Sages And Mystics,” R. Yanki Tauber (Open Door Books, NY, NY:2023), p. 98.
[12] Id.
[13] R. Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch. Id.
[14] Id.
[15]. Chagiga 14b.
About the Author
Jewish Mystic.